When I worked in small design studios, I was always trained to keep my work files on an external hard drive, and never store them on the computer hard drive. One of my design friends asked why I worked that way the other day, and I replied that was just how I've always done it.

Is there an inherent flaw with this work flow? Or any huge pros to storing your work files on your desktop/computers' hard drive?

I am curious as why all the small studios I worked for had that setup, I could try tracking down their IT guys and asking but that I would check here first! My work files are about 1.5TB, and of those about 700 gb are very relevant the other half are referred to often enough that it isn't worth zipping and archiving.

  • 1
    External hard drives are terribly easy to drop on the floor. Don't rely solely on them
    – Pekka
    Sep 9, 2011 at 8:50
  • External drive or shared network drive? The latter is typically used for backup purposes (the server is backed up or version control is running on it) but is really inefficient if you're dealing with 700mb PhotoShop files or video files or the like.
    – DA01
    Sep 9, 2011 at 14:30

4 Answers 4


My personal opinion would be to keep two copies. Whether you store them locally, or on a external hard drive; having two copies in two different locations helps back-up your data. That way if one hard drive should die, the other one will retain all the files.

While I have no experience working with design studios, I would suspect it could be for a number of reasons:

  • External hard drives are more portable.
  • External hard drives may be seen as safer as they are "external" to your computer.
  • If room isn't taken up on the local hard drive the computer may run faster
  • If you run out of space on an external, just buy another external. You can keep adding onto the data. If you run out of data on the local hard drive you'll have to separately back-up all your files (which takes time) or delete files you don't need (which in a business setting may not be easily identifiable)

Honestly though, if you're keeping your data on only ONE hard drive it won't make much of a difference where you keep the files, since if you lose the files in one spot, they're gone forever.


The setup with which I'm most familiar is that everyone works over a network — all the workstations in the office can access the network machine, which has a gihugic drive, and everything is saved there. This way everyone in the office is working on the same file, and there's no worry that the most recent version was saved to so-and-so's hard drive.

But if you're not in a network situation, there's no inherent value to saving to an external hard drive. Nobody else needs to access anything. I would save to my internal drive because I assume it's faster than whatever external I could hook up.

For file management and organization, Johannes makes some good points.

  • 2
    I prefer the term "ridonkulously ginormous"
    – horatio
    Jan 11, 2012 at 19:50

I had lot's of pretty strange situations during my working life when it comes to data archiving. Including a moment where a colleague of mine was working on some pretty intense & large file, while our boss deleted exactly this file from our file server. So here are my - personal - recommendations. Note: I currently freelance from home, so don't wonder why my answer go a slight touch of paranoia in it.

  • Fact is, that I give a d--n s--t about apple. Nothing worse, nothing better. I got an IBM Workstation with a Raid setup that mirrors my file archives hard disk. If one disk crashes it's plug & play. Lost time: ~3 hours. And the workstation is much cheaper (incl. insurance) than anything from the fruit shop.
  • I really love dropbox. When I go out of my "office", I update the "current project archive" folder. The folder itself is a windows "attache case" (don't know the equivalent in english), so it's plug & play again. Right click > update > finished. If someone would break into my flat, nothing's lost. Updates are pretty painless (1 click to update, another one to confirm). Getting the data back would be a task of minutes.
  • When I leave for vacation, I got an external hard drive to mirror my whole archives as this includes all references, fonts, etc. Searching for these again would be a real pain.
  • I never work with preferences in any programm, so I don't need my own setup and can work anywhere at any time. This makes me "free" from any programm, setup & else, I could imagine.
  • My main hard disk only has programs. Never data. It's small but fast.

For a freelancer setup you only slow your work down by keeping everything on an external drive. In a design studio, where someone else may need to take over a project suddenly and the network is flaky, externals might make some sense. But only if the night crew backs them up!

The big plus of running from internal drives is speed. Use external drives for backup, where speed isn't such an issue, and for files you want to be able to cart around but don't want cluttering your laptop.

You must have a daily backup of all your work files and projects. It doesn't have to be on an external drive, but your safety backup must go to an external drive or a secure cloud service. Preferably, that drive should be kept in a separate location entirely.

Here's my freelance setup. A variation of this would probably work well for you:

My main workstation has 6TB of internal storage, of which a 2TB drive is dedicated to project and asset daily backup. A 1 TB drive mirrors the system drive. An external eSATA drive gets the weekly backup from the 2TB internal.

For working on the road, my main laptop is sync'd to the client projects superfolder so it automatically stays up to date as I work. I have a portable external drive with duplicate non-project-specific assets (photos, stock photography, stock audio, etc.) in case I need them. Any work done on the laptop is automatically sync'd to the workstation when it reconnects to the workstation over my wifi router, and is then backed up automatically. I can also access the workstation via LogMeIn if necessary.

For maximum production speed, having your system and program files (not swap files) on an SSD is close to optimum. Use spinning disks (we'll be calling them "old fashioned" within a few years) for data and images. But always work from internal drives for optimum workflow speed.

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